Saturday, May 11, 2013

Light Up The Dark

As they say in that AT&T Wireless ad with the guy talking to the little kids, it's usually not that complicated. More is better than less. Faster is better than slower. Two things are better than one. But the key word is "usually." Just because you can doesn't mean you should. As an example, take computer software. Every year or so they pack more features into the same skin. So now, with just a few mouse clicks, you can "create a macro that scans the headings of the current confluence page to dynamically create a table of contents from your page headings." I have no idea what that means, especially when all I want to do is write a note to my mom.

This came to mind when I was looking at the New York skyline recently. As I spun around, I spotted the Empire State Building standing above it all. Around the world it is still perhaps the single most identifiable building in the city. If you live here, you probably also know that the lights on the building change. It's based not so much on the day and date, but rather the occasion. Christmas brings a red/green color scheme, while orange/yellow appears at Thanksgiving. You also see the tricolors of the Italian flag on Columbus Day, and red, white and blue for July 4th. And yes, they make it red for Valentine's Day.

The night I was looking at the building it was a combination of blue and yellow. Very attractive, to be sure. However, try as I might, I couldn't think of a holiday or major event that historically was associated with that day. I queried my companions, but none of them would come up with anything that explained why the building would be lit up in those tones. Thankfully, Google exists for these everyday knowledge crises. A few hunts and pecks and I had my answer. Unfortunately, it was very disappointing.

First, a digression en route to an explanation. Used to be that they changed the lighting the old fashioned way. Hundreds of very large bulbs had to swapped out by a team of electricians one at a time. It was no different from you changing the bulb in your living room, albeit on a quantitatively larger scale. As such, it was a costly and time consuming endeavor, and wasn't done lightly.

But in November of 2012, there was a dramatic upgrade. In came a brand new LED system under computer control. Now, rather than a team of guys crawling out on ledges, all that was needed was a laptop. With a few clicks, a technician could select from a palette of over 16 million colors, including "ripples, cross-fades, sparkles, chasers, sweeps, strobes and bursts." In fact, I would bet that he or she could probably change it from the Starbucks in the lobby with their iPhone.

Remember our entry point here? More, better, faster, cheaper? Yes, it was all those things and more. But what it also did was open the gates to a program called "Empire State Building Lighting Partners." Virtually any organization can apply to have the building lit up in honor or commemoration of something. Sorry, they don't do personal events like weddings or birthdays, political campaigns or figures, commercial events or campaigns, or religious holidays beyond those already done. But within those limits, well, whatever you want to celebrate is possible. So it's green/blue/green for National Eating Disorder Week. Yellow/yellow/yellow is in honor of the 15th anniversary of Disney's The Lion King. And peach all around for the 125th anniversary of The Financial Times. And that blue and yellow scheme I saw? It was in celebration of WrestleMania 29.

Now, I love a party, and believe we should celebrate the good things in this world. But WrestleMania 29? I didn't celebrate 28, 27, or even 25, so I'm not jumping on the bandwagon for this one. Cupcakes with "W29" on them would have been fine; lighting up one of most iconic buildings on the planet seems a bit over the top. Come to think of it, maybe that IS appropriate for WrestleMania.

It seems like the bar is kind of low. Still, in that vein, let's start looking ahead. Come February 6, 2015, I'm thinking blue, gold, a splash of purple and some silver. For on that day, assuming all things being equal, this column will post its 1000th installment. Speaking for myself, that will be worth lighting up about.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves architecture. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter 

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